On Engaging Fictional History in Games

In a couple of weeks two new Assassins Creed games come out, Unity and Rogue, for the PS4 and PS3 respectively. I’m a huge fan of the series so I have both games on pre-order and am very excited to play through the story and meet the new characters as well as to see how it ties in to the overall story.

So in preparation of this I have spent the last few days replaying Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag (aka AC Pirates). I think I’m currently at the midpoint in the game. Far enough in that I have upgraded the ship and can handle most sea battles, which means I’m taking a break from the story to work on completion. While playing there was a cutscene involving a fairly minor character and I thought to myself how most of the characters are based on an actual person so was this person real or simply a fictional addition to aid in the story. It turns out that this particular character was indeed based off of a real individual who was alive at the time, and indeed was someone who turned to piracy.

This is what I find enjoyable about these games, that even though the game is a work of fiction it is set in a historic time period and the developers take the time to include people and events that are at least partially based in reality. Obviously the whole Templar/Assassin thing is fictional, but they put it together with real history in such a way that it piqued my curiosity.

I enjoy history for the most part. I like the History Channel, or at least like when they actually show HISTORY, but reading history books is pretty boring. Games like Assassins Creed give me the interest to go and at least read what is available online about the events. That does make the assumption that the articles are indeed accurate, but it is cheaper than going to the book store and buying volumes of history books.

I know that Unity takes place during the French Revolution, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. Not knowing much about that time period I imagine I’ll do a bit of reading once I play through the game. I’m not sure of the historical period that Rogue takes place in. I know it falls between Black Flag and Assassins Creed 3, but I really don’t know of any historical events that happened at that time.

What this is really getting at is that I feel there should be more games like this. Ones that have some basis in factual history that are engaging enough to get the audience interested in reading more about the subject matter.

On Gaming Roots

So one thing that I have seen other people talk about at some point is what games have been most influential to them in their lifetime. To be honest I’m not sure I could pinpoint exactly what games might fit in to that category for me. Certainly there are games that I just always remember as being my favorites, but I can’t really think of any that really changed my outlook on things.

So instead of writing about games that might have been super influential I am going to talk a little bit about how I got in to gaming in the first place. Keep in mind I’m 31 (for another month) so most of the games I feel got me in to gaming will have come out late 80’s early 90’s. Most of them pre Sony & Microsoft days.

The first time I can remember playing a video game is actually before I ever got my first NES. There was a mom & pop restaurant by where I lived at the time and they had an old 8 bit Mario arcade cabinet. This was the same game as the NES version, just with a different title, “VS Super Mario Bros.“. I don’t recall getting very far, but that isn’t saying a lot since I didn’t actually beat the original Mario game for a long time.

So as I mentioned the first console I ever had was the NES, and I remember having a couple games for it. Mario Brothers, and Track & Field that had the awesome floor mat pad that looked like the mat from Twister. We didn’t have many games, but back then I wasn’t cooped up playing them all the time either. I couldn’t say all the games I ever had for it, I just remember having the Mario games. I still love a good platformer, and that comes from growing up on that genre.

After the NES I got the SNES and the Sega Genesis (not the Master System). My love of platformers continued with both of these consoles but I got my first taste of the Zelda series when I borrowed a friends copy of “A Link To The Past”. I didn’t finish it at the time, though I did eventually. This was also the time when fighting games such as Street Fighter II and the original Mortal Kombat were seeing home releases.

Years passed by and consoles came and went. I can say I’ve owned or played at least a good majority of the various consoles that came out. At least the major brand ones from Sony, Nintendo, Sega and Microsoft. We didn’t really have the money growing up to buy a lot of games so most of them were borrowed or rented at blockbuster. Only in the last few years as I’ve finished up college and got a well paying job that I’ve been able to start buying games seriously.

I do still have an old SNES and Sega laying around. I need to find a good, legal way to play these on my tv. I know people always talk about playing ROMS and stuff on the PC but I don’t feel the same sense of joy playing an old game if it isn’t with the original console, or at least the original cart & controller.

I probably could have talked at length about this topic, but I feel like maybe various parts can be discussed individually.

That and I really need to get back to work.

On Console Exclusivity

This week E3 is going on and the big companies are showing off their new games and product pitches. Yesterday both Microsoft and Sony held their big presentations talking about upcoming titles and how focused they are on providing content. Both companies tend to talk about their console exclusive titles, but also talk about cross console releases as well. The thing is both companies kept talking about how they’d have this title first or have this amount of exclusive content that you won’t get anywhere else.

Every time I heard that I want to get a rolled up newspaper and whack the presenter on the nose saying “Bad presenter, stop withholding content from your players!”. I think it is dumb to separate what players get just because they may choose one console over another. Personally I own a PS4 (for arguments sake keeping this next gen). I don’t own a XBox One and really I don’t plan to get one. A lot of the games that I want are coming out for both systems, which you know that’s great because everyone should have a chance to play a game their interested in. I don’t like the idea of console exclusive titles anyways.

It just annoys me to no end when they start talking about how console x is going to get the game release first or how they will have an extra x number of hours of additional content that the other system won’t get. If I get Assassins Creed Unity on the PS4 I want the exact same content that someone on a Xbox One is getting. I don’t see why I should be penalized because of the console I own. Don’t tell me because I didn’t buy system x I can’t have 100% of the content that was developed. I’m paying for that content so just give it to me. And especially don’t come back a year later and try to charge me money for what used to be exclusive content that is now DLC.

Now, I can understand why they do this. And it’s a pretty simple reason. They want to drive up sales of their game so that they can say how well their game sold and more money means more games that can be developed. Does that mean I have to like it?I can’t even fault any particular company for doing this because both Sony and Microsoft are doing it. Now I say the brand when the decision might be on the individual developer level, I don’t know who decides what. I’m just saying I don’t think it is fair to the consumer.

Do I think this is ever going to stop? Not really, developers and the main companies such as Sony and Microsoft make too much money off of these practices to stop doing it.

On Following Your Friends To New Games

So, if anyone noticed I did not write anything yesterday, which kind of breaks my posting every week day goal. In my defense real life crap came up and I just didn’t have the time. One of the responsibilities I have on the project I work on is taking an on call shift once every five weeks. This involves a lot of small things, but mostly making sure things are working. Yesterday we started having issues with one of our servers in what we are now referring to as “Fileocolypse”. So yeah, just didn’t have time to come up with coherent thoughts. Today I passed that on to someone else and it’s not my problem anymore.

So for a quick post I though I’d talk a little bit about how we choose games. I think I’ve touched on this before, and hopefully I haven’t already written this post. What got me thinking about this was the recent release of Wildstar, the latest MMO that people have jumped on. Personally I have no opinion on this game because my time playing with it amounts to maybe 1 hour. This is just an example. I have previously stated that I have chosen several games because I like the group of people I play with and want to play the same games as them. Wildstar is one of the few examples that I can think of that I did not “jump on the bandwagon”. I don’t feel guilty about this though, I like my friends and I like playing with them but there comes a point when you realize you only play games because you’re following other people around.

Is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think there is. I mean I’ve done it enough myself so what right do I have to judge? Do I think it’s a good reason to buy a game? No I don’t. I’m getting over this myself, but the internet definitely makes it easier. There is always a wealth of information available if you look for it. The hardest part is hearing strong arguments for playing a game from a friend. Because then are you following them or are you there because you want to be?

I think that really is a personal opinion. I personally don’t think that would mean you followed them in to a game. They may have made a very persuasive argument or they had information on a game you were already interested in that helped you make that decision. When I think of “following” people I’m thinking of blindly playing a game because everyone else is. It’s like when you’re a kid and someone asks you if all your friends jumped off the cliff would you too?

There may have been a time where this was less of a big deal because there were limited means of communications but now voice chat is readily available and it is easier to communicate across games. Now if there was a good solution for cross platform voice chat I’d be all over that.

I’ll admit that having people to play with is a factor in some of my PC gaming decisions. I do prefer to play with friends but I find that is no longer a requirement. I find that I want to base my purchases more on reviews and features and maybe seeing some game play footage. Just enough information to help me decide if I want to drop $60 on it. That to me is the main thing I look for now, is it really worth paying $60+ for?

 

On Always Online Games (The Bad)

So yesterdays topic was I would consider the good aspects of always online games. Today will be talking about the things I don’t like about always being online. Now, I feel like there is more that I don’t like than I do like, but I’ll try to keep it short-ish and hopefully not ranty or bitter.

The first thing that I would say I don’t like would be having to deal with content I’m not particularly interested in. I’ve mentioned before how I feel about being forced in to PVP content, and I feel very similar for games forcing certain online content on me. I’ve talked about player invasions in both Dark Souls 1 & 2 and how I don’t really want to do that since it is essentially PVP. I’m not the least bit interested in allowing other players in to my game in any capacity that is not for cooperative purposes. If I invite you in to play that is one thing, I don’t want someone just popping in to my game without my say.

This leads in to my second issue, not giving me the option to opt out of this content. I think this is a bit less of an issue for most games, but any game that requires an online connection AND allows other people to just come in without permission should allow me to disable that feature and NOT penalize me for it. I won’t count Diablo 3 in to this because that is partially a COOP game and doesn’t fit with my PVP analogy. I’m referring to games such as Dark Souls 1 & 2 and more recently Watch_Dogs which released on Tuesday.

While both Dark Souls games allow other players to invade your game for that additional PVP aspect. At least the PS3 version of Dark Souls allowed you to disable this, and admittedly I don’t know if the PS3 version of Dark Souls 2 has the same feature but I know the only way to get out of this content on the PC version is to start Steam in offline mode. Personally I don’t feel that this is an acceptable solution. I should just be able to disable it via the menu system.

Watch_Dogs falls kind of in the middle of this. It does allow players to “invade” your game for a variety of activities (mainly to try to hack you), but they make it somewhat easy to disable this, as long as you find the right menu. However, they penalize you for doing this. It essentially locks you out of specific skill trees that you gain xp points through a notoriety system. I have no problem with that so far, but I do have a problem with the fact that if you had done some of this and had earned xp if you decide later to turn it off you lose all the xp you earned and the skills that you bought. Now I understand the reason for this, which I think is to keep people from only enabling the feature to hack other players and then disabling it to keep them from hacking you, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The last issue, and the one I feel is the most important is the plain and simple fact that it allows other people to interrupt my gaming.  When I’m playing a game, especially one I would consider single player, I don’t want to be interrupted by some random person coming in with the sole purpose of messing with me. I understand that this content is there for people who like the sense of randomness or enjoy the unexpectedness that comes from a non AI opponent. That just isn’t for me. Have the feature in the game if you want to, just don’t force it upon me.

Now, I may have ranted a bit more than I intended, and if you disagree (or agree)  feel free to leave a comment discussing it.

Right now I have disabled the online features on Watch_Dogs so if you ever catch me streaming it you won’t see me having to worry about other people.

On Always Online Games (The Good)

Going to try something a bit different today. Namely, splitting this topic in to two posts. But hey, if Peter Jackson can find a way to split The Hobbit in to 3 movies I can make this topic two posts.

There have been quite a number of games that have come out over the last few years that essentially require you to always be connected to the internet. Games such as the latest Sim City, Diablo 3, Dark Souls 1 & 2 and Watch_Dogs, just to name a few. Each of these games handles things a bit differently, some obviously better than others. The question really is, why do I really need to be connected to a game that is essentially single player.

Today I am going to write a bit about the positive side of always online and tomorrow I’ll discuss the aspects of it I don’t like.

The first thing that really sticks out to me is the ability to easily play with your friends. Now, I’m not a huge coop player, but a lot of people I know enjoy playing through a game with another person for various reasons. In some instances the story is different when you’re playing coop versus single player. Sometimes it presents a greater challenge as seen in Diablo 3 where the campaign difficulty is increased as you add more players. What matters is that having an always online connection lets you easily drop in and out of a friends game. You don’t have to wait for a connection to be established or thanks to friends lists not having to wait for some way of knowing that person is online other than spamming invites.

Always online connections also allow for games to be updated without having to run through a patcher. I don’t personally know how this would work specifically, but I think that if this is being used that it would allow you to keep playing even if some other part of the game needs to be fixed. If you didn’t have these always online connections it could be difficult to ensure that all the players have updated game files.

Another “good” aspect of this is friendly competition through online leaderboards. This is does not specifically require an always online connection, but it easily allows you to see how you are doing compared to your friends. If you’re connection is always online than it is easier for the system to remain updated with real time stats.

I feel like this topic might have been a bit of a stretch. I am not exactly the biggest fan of always on connections, especially in games I would consider single player. Tomorrow post will discuss the things that I don’t like about always being online, but I felt the need to at least try to say something positive. I think opinions on the subject vary from person to person, and I’m sure some people reading this might have other reasons for liking always online games. If you happen to have other thoughts, feel free to add them in as a comment.

On New Game Plus

So kind of a topic stretch today, I’m doing this a bit earlier in the day than normal (it’s currently 5:45am) because I start my on call week today. This means I may be a bit too busy during the day to type up a long post, so I figure I’d do it before the world came crashing down. I’d say I would hope for a quiet week but that is never guaranteed.

That being said, today’s topic is New Game+ modes in games. I’m not exactly sure how many games have done this lately but I know of a few. Namely Dark Souls 1 & 2 and the latest Zelda game A Link Between Worlds. On the off chance you’ve never heard of new game + mode the gist of it is that once you finish the game on normal difficulty it lets you start over from the beginning with all your items/skills but makes the enemies more challenging. Now keeping all your items is not a 100 percent guarantee since Zelda does not do that. It just starts you off at the beginning with harder enemies and you lose health a lot faster. Dark Souls 1 & 2 at least lets you keep your level, and I’m sure you keep all your items as well, though I can’t say for certain as I’ve never tried.

This leads me to wonder a couple of things.

First off, why do games even offer a new game plus mode? Why not just offer a game that lets you select what difficulty you want and go from there? Personally I think it is an attempt to extend the life of a game that otherwise might not take that long to finish. Or there could be specific achievements or rewards that can only be found on a second playthrough. I know that I never find every item or collectible on the first try, and going back to earlier areas might not always be an option. The other reason I can think of is that it is there for people who want that additional challenge, maybe they thought the first playthrough was too easy or something.

The second thing is more of a reader poll. Do you play new game + mode when it is available? If so, why? Personally I have yet to finish a game in new game +. This is primarily because I have not seen any specific rewards for it other than a more difficult game. I find it especially difficult to play through a compelling story a second time as there are no longer any surprises. For me this was the case with the latest Zelda game. I really enjoyed the story, and started out playing new game + because there was a specific item that shed some light on a secondary characters backstory that only unlocked after finishing the game. Once I got that object I no longer felt compelled to keep playing. I might go back to it eventually, as I love the Zelda series, but back to back playthroughs are not my thing.